Election 97: Manoeuvres on the inside track

Lawyers who are MPs, or who sit in the Lords, play a prominent and obvious role in drawing up their party's policies. But their practising counterparts outside Parliament have an almost equal role, and there are many important ways they can help their party.

Ashurst Morris Crisp's head of banking Stephen Mostyn-Williams is a classic example. An Islington neighbour and family friend of the Blairs, he helped coordinate a series of dinners at Ashursts last autumn for Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, John Prescott and other Labour frontbenchers, at which they met top City players – the chairmen and chief executives of FTSE 100 companies. Part of the reason for New Labour's new-found City credibility can surely be put down to Mostyn-Williams' efforts.

But Ashursts is not solely a home for Labour supporters. It also employs assistant James Bullock, the secretary of the Society of Conservative Lawyers.

Two Herbert Smith property partners – property head Garry Hart and Chris Taverner – are also friends and neighbours of Blair. Hart acted as auctioneer at the recent £100-a-head fund-raising dinner for Labour lawyers at the River Cafe in Hammersmith, at which Tony Blair and Cherie Booth QC were guests. It was organised by Charles Falconer QC, of Fountain Court Chambers, and Helena Kennedy QC, of Doughty Street Chambers.

Another Herbert Smith partner, Stephen Kinsella, whose political activity is limited because he is based in Brussels, is one of many lawyers who have stumped up at least £1,000 to join Labour's 1,000 Club. The club gives members access to Blair and other frontbenchers at dinners and functions.

Other firms are more closely associated with Labour. Westminster-based Lewis Silkin is named after its founder, who was a minister in the post-war Labour government of Clement Atlee. His son, John Silkin, was also a senior partner at the firm and was a minister in the Labour government of the 1960s.

John Fraser, the current senior partner of the firm, will retire as Labour MP for Norwood on 1 May. Nigel Griffiths, the Labour Party spokesman on consumer affairs, used Lewis Silkin to help him conduct a survey of the advertising and marketing industry on the need for legislative change.

And a litigation partner at the firm, Stephen Groom, acted for Tom Clarke, Labour's spokesman for the disabled, in his libel action against the chairman of the Conservative Party, Brian Mawhinney, last year.

Anthony Julius, the de facto senior partner of Mishcon de Reya, has said he joined Mishcons on graduating from law school because he approved of its pro-Labour stance. He sometimes hosts constituency party meetings at his home in Hampstead Garden Suburb. His fellow partner, matrimonial expert Maggie Rae, is also an active Labour supporter.

Also linked to Labour is former Law Society president Henry Hodge, of Camden firm Hodge Jones & Allen. He is another Blairite who lives in Islington, and is tipped to be chair of the Legal Aid Board under Labour. His wife is the Labour MP Margaret Hodge.

Another former Law Society president, Rodger Pannone of Manchester-based Pannone & Partners, also stumped up for the 1,000 Club.

Firms which should rate a mention as almost inevitably Labour, or at least left-leaning, are those that act for trade unions or on civil rights issues. Among them are Bloomsbury practice Thompsons, Bindman & Partners which fights for civil liberties, Clerkenwell litigation practice Lawford & Co and Chancery Lane firm Pattinson and Brewer, which has acted for the Transport and General Workers Union since it was founded in the 1920s.

Among barristers, the Society of Labour Lawyers is chaired by prominent Fabian James Goudie QC, of 11 King's Bench Walk, an expert in public and employment law, who says his society was responsible for changing the first draft of Labour's policy on access to justice.

Peter Goldsmith QC, former chair of the Bar Council, is seen in some quarters as a future Solicitor General, or at least a special policy adviser to the LCD under Labour. David Bean QC, a member of the Bar Council, is also a Labour supporter.

Conservative lawyers are harder to flush out of the woodwork, but many of the influential lawyers are themselves standing for election on 1 May.

Health and safety specialist Dominic Grieve QC of 1 Temple Gardens is the Tory candidate for the safe Conservative seat of Beaconsfield, from which Tim Smith has resigned, and is head of research at the Society of Conservative Lawyers. He is tipped as a rising name in the Tory party.

A prominent name who definitely will not be in the Commons immediately is Martin Howe QC of 8 New Square, a nephew of former Chancellor Geoffrey Howe, who in the early 1990s wrote an anti-Maastricht book that set the tone for Euro-sceptics in the Conservative Party. He was beaten last month to selection for the safe Tory seat of Kensington and Chelsea by Alan Clark.

Patrick Ground QC, of the Chambers of Anthony Scrivener QC, is Conservative candidate in the Labour marginal seat of Feltham and Heston, and is treasurer of the Society of Conservative Lawyers.

Clive Blackwood of Harcourt Chambers is a Tory candidate in Eltham, Peter Bottomley's former seat, while his fellow tenant Chris Frazer, prominent on the Bar Council, is also known in Conservative circles. Another Tory supporter is Bar Council member Julian Malins QC of Brick Court Chambers.

Daniel Janner, of 36 Essex Street, has not followed his father Greville Janner MP into the Labour party but runs the policy research team for the Society of Conservative Lawyers.

Of Conservative-supporting solicitors, Laurence Harris, a DJ Freeman partner, is standing in retiring Conservative MP John Patten's probably marginal seat of Oxford West and Abingdon, while Shailesh Vara, a property assistant at McKenna & Co, is contesting Clare Short's safe Birmingham Ladywood constituency and has been active in policy research for the party.

Liberal Democrat MPs pay close attention to their Lawyers' Association. Its secretary, Joyce Arram, is one of several thousand British female freemasons and a legal executive at two-partner Lincoln's Inn firm Walters. Many a Lib Dem MP has been heard to warn: “If Joyce asks you to do it, you do it.”

The party relies for policy advice on a trio of silks including Lib Dem peer Anthony Lester QC. John Macdonald QC, of 12 New Square, drew up the Lib Dems' policy on a referendum, constitutional reform and the rights of immigrants, and Sir William Goodhart QC, brother of Phillip Goodhart, the former Tory MP for Beckenham, is a prominent Lib Dem supporter who often provides advice.

Andrew Phillips, a partner at City firm Bates Wells & Braithwaite, has influenced Liberal Democrat policy on legal aid, and David Ive, partner at Rowe & Maw, has an influence as the chair of the Liberal Democrat Lawyers Association.